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Two restaurants battle over what's in a name

By Laura Barcella
Court TV


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(Court TV) -- A cheeseburger is a cheezborger is a cheeburger -- or is it?

Not according to Chicago's Billy Goat tavern, which filed a lawsuit earlier in December against Florida's Cheeburger Cheeburger restaurant chain, claiming the company illegally co-opted the Billy Goat's slogan "Cheezborger, Cheezborger."

The Billy Goat's slogan was made famous by John Belushi in a popular 1970s "Saturday Night" Live skit, in which he portrays a heavily Greek-accented waiter and yells orders for "cheezborger, cheezborger[s]" at a restaurant chef. The skit's writer, according to the complaint, was a regular patron along with cast members Belushi, Bill Murray and Dan Akroyd, and based the jokes on their experiences there.

In its trademark infringement suit, the tavern asserts that "the public associates the trademark 'Cheezborger, cheezborger' with the Billy Goat restaurants." According to the suit, the introduction of Florida's similar-sounding Cheeburger Cheeburger chain into the Chicago area will confuse patrons, possibly leading them to think that the two restaurants are affiliated.

The chain, which has 33 restaurants nationwide, according to its Web site, has been around since 1986. But it wasn't until it recently opened a branch in the Chicago suburb of Glenview that it aroused the ire of the Billy Goat.

"It was only when it expanded into the Midwest that the Billy Goat's owner, Sam Sianis, decided something had to be done," the tavern's lawyer Raymond Niro Jr. said. Thus, the tavern is seeking a permanent injunction to "protect the Billy Goat's valuable trademark."

According to Cheeburger Cheeburger's attorney John Cyril Malloy III, the Billy Goat has no such trademark. While Cheeburger Cheeburger owns two federal trademark registrations for its name, "the Billy Goat owns none," Malloy wrote in an e-mail to Courttv.com. In fact, he claimed, the Billy Goat once tried to get its own federal trademark registration, but was denied.

The Billy Goat contends that Cheeburger Cheeburger's federal trademark was obtained fraudulently by not disclosing that the Billy Goat was already using a similar slogan. Thus, the tavern hopes to prevent Cheeburger Cheeburger from infiltrating Chicago -- at least, not with that name. "It will cause confusion," Niro said.

The tavern not only wants the Cheeburger Cheeburger's trademarks revoked, but it is seeking unspecified damages for "injuries it has sustained."

Malloy finds the accusation of fraud ludicrous. "It is nothing short of reckless to accuse this fine company of fraud or any kind of intentional wrongdoing," he wrote. 

Legal skirmishes aside, Niro claimed the Billy Goat's primary focus is still on its pride and joy: the food. "The Billy Goat is [generally] not a litigious company," he said. "They just want to sell cheeseburgers."


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